air engagements from the middle war onwards.
“[We] all wanted to win. Combat makes the
pilot’s will to win stronger. With every fight they
become much stronger. I got stronger with each
victory. The first fight I didn’t remember any-
thing or understand anything.”
Despite Japan’s unbroken string of victories,
the United States developed a unique response.
The First Special Aviation Project combined
Army bombers with aircraft carriers in one of the
most spectacular missions in aviation history.
Lt. Col. James Doolittle’s specially trained B- 25
crews launched from the carrier USS Hornet
(CV- 8) on April 18, striking six Japanese cities
including Tokyo. All 16 Mitchells were lost, but
most of the crews reached safety in China, giv-
ing the American public a soaring morale boost
just when it needed it most. The war, however,
continued at sea.
The world’s first aircraft-carrier battle in the
Coral Sea in May 1942 ended millennia of traditional naval warfare. For the first time, two fleets
engaged one another beyond human vision.
Japan’s thrust toward Port Moresby, Papua New
Guinea, was blunted at cost of the huge U.S. carrier USS Lexington (CV-2), while Japan’s smaller
Hosho went down. But the battle in the Coral Sea
set the stage for Midway a month later.
One of the victors at Midway was Lt. Richard
H. Best of USS Enterprise (CV- 6). A superb dive-
The Mos T IMpor Tan T planes of 1942
Grumman F4F Wildcat
Aside from its crucial role at Coral Sea and
Midway, the Wildcat was a decisive factor
in holding Guadalcanal. It remained the only
U.S. carrier fighter well into 1943. The only
alternative, the Brewster F2A Buffalo, suffered
from carrier suitability problems. In the Atlantic,
export Wildcats helped combat the rising tide
of U-boat successes by opposing Focke-Wulf
FW 200 Condor reconnaissance and attack
bombers. (Photo by John Dibbs/ planepicture.com)